Tis The Season

 TIS THE SEASON

by John Piesen

Last Saturday I provided some profitable March Madness for the followers of the Season of Piesen, and the John Piesen Hot Line, when I nailed the $112.20 three-horse exacta box in the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park.

Although the favorite, The Factor, wired the nine-horse field (minus four scratches) as the $4.80 favorite, only the Season and the Hot Line caught the exacta.

The reason was Caleb's Posse, who finished second at 25-1.

Was I the only one who saw Caleb Posse's brutal trip for sixth in his previous start in the Southwest? Must have been because CP got away at that boxcar mutuel in Hot Springs.

Some handicappers swear by "trips". Others pay no attention because, even though Horse A had a bad trip last time, doesn't mean he'll have a good trip this time. And even if he does, he may not be good enough.

The first horse who comes to mind is Sway Away, who had a bad trip behind The Factor and Caleb's Posse as the second choice in the Rebel. His connections didn't even mention the trip in their post-race focus. Instead they blamed the speed-favoring nature of the track, which "deprived" their late-running horse of having a chance.

Jockey Gomez wrote off Sway Away before he weighed in, which may prove a mistake.

Personally, I haven't given up on Sway Away. But he has to win the Santa Anita Derby just to get sufficient Derby dough. If he is not a Derby horse, he might be your Breeders' Cup Sprint winner.

This brings us to another talented 3-year-old.

His name is Machen, who last out finished fourth to Mucho Macho Man as the 2-1 second choice (after opening 1-5) in the Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds.

MMM will have the Village People in his corner, but Machen will have Edgar Prado rather than jockey Theriot, who was 2-for-3 on the Howard-trained colt.

This time -- in the $1 million Louisiana Derby on Saturday at the same New Orleans track -- about six miles from that other Mad Madness venue, the M&M boys will hook up  again for more money, and at a longer distance - nine furlongs.

And this time, MMM will have the Village People cheering him. (They had the hit single Macho Man), while, more importantly, Machen gets a rider change -- from Theriot to Prado.

Mucho Macho Man, with jockey Maragh once again subbing for the injured Coa, is the 9-5 program favorite from post five in the field of 13, and Machen is the 7-2 second choice from the seven-hole.

Since there is a coupled entry in the race, MMM will be #4 in your program, and Machem #6.

So will Mache, get the trip with Prado in the Louisiana Derby that he didn't get with Theriot a month back in the Risen Star?

And, if he gets the trip, will he be good enough?

I know for sure I'll have him in my exacta box. I just don't know for sure just yet where.

After all, the Louisiana Derby, which will be run as Race 10 on a stakes-studded card at 6:03 Eastern, is far from a two-horse race -- just as you would expect when they put up one mill.

That entry we mentioned is from Florida-based Kelly Breen; Nacho Business (with jockey Bravo over from Gulfstream to ride), and Pants On Fire, with top FG jock Rosie Napravnik.

Not only are they coupled in the betting, but they will break from the two inside posts, always an advantage going long at Fair Grounds.

Speaking of post positions, Elite Alex, a talented son of 2005 champion Afleet Alex, and from the same connections, was scheduled last Saturday in the Rebel, but trainer
Ritchey scratched on the morning of the race due to an outside post position.

So Ritchey worked the 17-hands colt five furlongs on Sunday morning,  then put him on a van for the eight-hour ride south to New Orleans.

And while Elite Alex was on the bus, they drew the Louisiana Derby -- and, you'd never believe --  Elte Alex got the 12-hole in the field of 13.

The outside at Fair Grounds is bad, but it's still not as bad as at Oaklawn, and, as Ritchey notices, the FG home stretch is a lot longer than that at OP, and suits his colt's
style better.

Also, jockey Borel gives up a full afternoon of live horses at OP, to ride back Elite Alex, whom Calvin hopes will give him his fourth Kentucky Derby winner in five years.

If you're planning to attend Fair Grounds on Saturday, prepare for a long day. They will run 14 races, starting at noon local. Fortunately, they will squeeze them into six hours, leaving plenty of time to enjoy the Quarter.

In addition to the Derby, the card will include the Bayou Handicap (Forest Uproar vs. Upperline) going as race three; the New Orleans Handicap (Giant Oak vs. Apart) as race
six; the Duncan Kenner Stakes (Backtalk vs. Snapshot) as race seven; the Fair Grounds Oaks (Grandacious vs. Niji's Grand Girl) as race eight, and the Munoz Memorial Handicap (Sleepless Knight vs. Battle of Hastings) as race nine.

Ken McPeek, the trainer of Niji's Grand Girl, continues to have bad luck with his 3-year-old colts. He has suffered some tough Derby beats with Tejano Run, Harlan's
Holiday and Noble's Promise, among others, and was hoping this would be the year
with Rogue Romance, who finished third in the Risen Star despite sustaining a foot fracture during the race.

Needless to say Rogue Romance, a son of Smarty Jones, is off the Derby trail.

Speaking of Smarty, The Factor came within a tick of Smart's 1/16-mile track record when he wired the Rebel by six lenghts. Trainer Baffert, who has been known to change his mind, plans to bring The Factor back from California to Hot Springs for the Arkansas Derby. If The Factor wins the AD, he'll go to Louisville as the second choice to Uncle Mo in the Kentucky Derby.

And if The Factor wins the Derby, Oaklawn Park can once again take credit for producing the Derby winner.

Of course, nobody knows at this point if The Factor can get a mile and a quarter, but we can say the same thing about Uncle Mo (and everyone else) as well.

If you caught last week's column on this venue, you might recall I said the key to the Rebel was J P's Gusto. I pointed out that The Factor would have a problem if Gusto ran with him; if not, The Factor would be loose on the lead, and school would be out.

I also pointed out, that from watching jockey Dominguez ride on a daily basis in New York, I would expect him to rate the speedy Gusto. That's exactly what happened. RD rated Gusto right out the race, and The Factor was home free.

We still have plenty of Derby preps left -- including some biggies: Louisiana Derby, Wood, Florida Derby, Arkansas Derby, Blue Grass -- and an awful lot can happen to change Derby thinking. You can click here to sign up for my Derby Prep service along with the 137th Kentucky Derby on May 7th.

But, that said, at this point in time, the Derby shapes up as a classic confrontation of East vs. West -- much like Nashua-Swaps in '55, and Sunday Silence-Easy Goer in '89.

History tells up that the "west" won both those races. Will The Factor make it a hat trick vs. Uncle Mo? But, who knows, we may see an altogether different scenario.

In the meantime, here's the latest Piesen Derby Top Ten:

RANK

HORSE 

COMMENT

1.     Uncle Mo            Will be 1-9 in the Wood.
2.   The Factor           Can he get 10 furlongs?
3.    Dialed In             Florida Derby the acid test.
4.    Flashpoint           Could be the next Big Brown.
5.  Soldat                  Versatile colt always there.
6,  Premier Pegasus   The Santa Anita Derby favorite.
7.  Mucho Macho Man The Louisiana Derby favorite.
8. Stay Thirsty          One powerful second-stringer.
9.  Machen            Louisiana Derby  second choice.
10.   Sway Away      Want to give him one more chance.

Thanks for tuning in. Good luck this weekend, check out the red-hot  Season of Piesen and JP Hot Line (1-888-612-2283), and I'll see you back here next  week to talk about more races in the Road To The Derby.

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